Photo: The late Phyllis Coard and her husband, ex-deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard
By Earl Bousquet via Big Drum Nation
Another October, another sterling contributor to the Grenada Revolution to mourn and remember…
Like Maurice Bishop and all others who made the Revolution happen in 1979, the Coards’ contribution to the realization of everything behind the eternal theme ‘Forward Ever, Backward Never’ simply cannot be erased… Like the Revolution they helped build, their contributions will be better appreciated henceforth, more for what they were and still are actually worth, than what those still bent on diminishing them would have preferred to have been their lasting legacy…
Another October is here and there’ll be the usual revisiting of events that led to the various sins of commission and omission and the Grenada Revolution’s implosion; and one more leading revolutionary to mourn and remember, whose contribution was as important as any other that made March 13, 1979 possible.
Phyllis Coard, who died September 6, 2020 — a month short of the 37th anniversary of the US invasion of October 25, 1983 — contributed significantly to Grenada’s political history in the third quarter of the 20th century.
For four-and-a-half years, she led the process of pursuing and introducing positive, life-lasting changes for women and children across the three-island state of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique.
But those recording that period have not all been kind to her, as most media reports refer to her as ‘the only woman convicted for the murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others on October 19, 1983’ – as if she’d been proven by a court of law to have pulled a trigger or in any way helped take Bishop’s life.
Otherwise, she was simply regarded by those unaware of who she also was, as ‘Bernard’s wife’.
But Phyllis was definitely more than just her husband’s faithful wife and companion for life.
Having lived and worked together in the UK, the couple moved to Bernard’s native Grenada in the 1970s and helped establish the New Jewel Movement (NJM) that led the March 13, 1979 Revolution, by which time they’d accumulated the early political experiences that helped steel her for the multiple responsibilities she would assume during the Revolution.
Phyllis had done everything, alongside the many other women in the leadership of the NJM and the National Women’s Organization (NWO) to, among many other things: advance child care, promote equality of employment and pay for women, introduce People’s Laws to strengthen and advance the causes of women and children, bring more women into the process of political education, give women more leadership responsibilities outside the home; and encourage more respect for women and from their husbands or their ‘man’ – starting with party members.
She was never, ever publicly disrespected. And all her achievements were accepted, most times as if duly expected on account of her advanced academic and political levels.
Phyllis was forever acknowledged as the ‘revolutionary’ she always was, but not always seen in the true light.
On account of her characteristic eloquence and advanced academic levels, she was even referred to as ‘too bright’ by her learned opposition detractors and critics; and ‘too strict’ for those in the party who couldn’t find words to explain their unwillingness to understand the forms of unusual personal and discipline she and Bernard exhibited, apparently without fail.
Bernard’s contributions and achievements in turning the inherited wrecked economy around were also almost taken for granted, on the similar basis of his reputation as one of the finest economists the Caribbean has produced.
Unfortunately, however, their more serious personal approaches to issues such as timeliness, preparedness and comparative public deportment was most times misinterpreted by friends and foes as manifestations of a largely imagined regimented schooling in the sort of ‘drilled discipline’ Western writers ascribed to Eastern political leaders of similar ideological lining during the Cold War.
Same with the two being selectively characterized as leaders of a contrived ‘hardline Marxist Leninist trend’ that fits the fictional propaganda narrative of those who painted scripted pictures to draw a new iron curtain over the truth that the NJM Central Committee and Political Bureau were in collective agreement with the ‘Line of March’ presented by Maurice Bishop and supported by Bernard and all other members of the leadership from Day One.
But throughout it all, Phyllis lived many untold stories in Grenada, including her primary roles as wife and mother.
She had to balance her daily revolutionary commitments as a member of the Central Committee of the NJM, Minister with Responsibility for Women’s Affairs and the leader of the National Women’s Organization (NWO) with her role as the person who ran both ‘the house’ and ‘the home’ — and mothered their children Sola, Abi and Neto, none yet even teenagers during the Revolution, yet growing-up in the middle of it all.
Phyllis and Bernard behaved like any married couple equally wedded to themselves as to their mutual revolutionary political commitment to building ‘the new Grenada Man and Woman’ the Revolution was promising.
Like the few others who either emulated them or reflected similar personal approaches other than the norm, they too were accused ‘not having a social life’.
As young parents and early life companions in a revolutionary struggle led by youth, in a process pregnant with unavoidable contradictions, but certainly on path to delivery of a new nation and people, the Coards were too busy being their normal selves to notice they were being unfairly painted and presented, at home and abroad, as enforcers of a ‘revolutionary discipline’ that simply did not exist.
By collective and mutual consent, the party was pursuing its own agreed approaches to internal revolutionary education and laying the basis for eventual conversion of the mass-based NJM into a necessary ‘Party of a new type.’
The progressive plan was that Grenada would, in a Caribbean setting, develop its own models based on national experiences and strategic policy objectives, but also relying heavily on tactical ideological and political principles developed in successful revolutionary societies elsewhere over time.
Confessed mishandling of the differences that collided in 1983 resulted in the self-generated tidal wave that eventually swept the Revolution away like a tsunami.
The Revolution had imploded that October through collective commission of revolutionary suicide and every single person was affected; and the invading American forces only buried its corpse, in the name of rescuing its people.
After being sought and captured by invading American troops, held in detention during the US occupation and subjected to a Kangaroo Trial that sentenced the 17 accused members of the NJM Central Committee to life imprisonment on the basis of hearsay held as a political prisoner for 17 years, Phyllis was released on medical grounds in 2000.
She then spent the next 20 years — first two decades of the 21st Century — nursing a cancer diagnosed while serving time, much in confinement and isolation, including in a cage within her cell, denied her rights and subjected to physical and violent abuse.
Bernard and others would also later be legally released after serving 26 years as political prisoners and he would immediately join his sick wife in Kingston, to become her eternal bedside Nightingale through thick and thin, at home and hospital, before and during COVID-19, until that early September day when she peacefully began her final trip along the long, winding and unending River of No Return.
The Coards’ contributions to the Revolution were brushed aside following their arrest and rigged trial, but both – following their release – have been able to remind those suffering from selective amnesia that they were part of a collective process that also included vital inputs from Grenadian and Caribbean women over a four-and-a-half-year period, which also contributed in the rise of many Grenadian women to leadership levels as a result of their involvement with the NWO.
After freely giving her early years to the causes of the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique before and during the Revolution, Phyllis had most of her remaining years stolen as she languished in prison, paying long time for a crime she was never proven to have committed.
Everything she did made Phyllis a genuine Grenadian citizen – and more than just by marriage. She influenced life changes and her work left indelible marks across the island. But after the death of the revolution, she was always referred to in the local and Caribbean press as a ‘Jamaican’ or ‘Jamaica-born’.
The Coard kids would have grown-up during the Revolution accustomed to seeing their parents laboring, together and separately, on the political hustings by day and over books and papers by night, between never-ending meeting after meeting.
Before Phyllis The Writer penned her final paragraph and sounded her Last Post, she and Bernard had lived together for all of 52 long years and in their last 20 together produced enough between them to shed much more light on the dark crevices of what went wrong in Grenada – the corners usually avoided or ignored by irregular torchlight-bearers armed with dead batteries and wet matches.
They spent their last eleven years weaving and leaving materials that will ensure lingering universal access to truthful information about the positive difference the revolution’s four-and-a-half years made to the lives of Grenadian citizens at home and abroad — and its continuing contribution to Caribbean and world history.
Like the revolution they helped build, Phyllis and Bernard’s contributions will be even more appreciated henceforth, more for what they were and still are actually worth, than what those still bent on diminishing them would have preferred to have been their lasting legacy.
Like NJM Leader and Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and all others who made the Revolution happen in 1979, Phyllis and Bernard’s individual and joint contributions to the realization of everything behind the eternal theme ‘Forward Ever, Backward Never’ simply cannot be erased.
Because, as has been proven time and again over time, never mind the best efforts of the worst critics, Time and History are always on the side of Truth, which always prevails.